§ SIR JOHN ACTON
asked the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Whether he would consent to lay upon the Table of the House Copies of all such Despatches and Reports as had been received from the Diplomatic Agents of the British Government in Rome from the year 1855 to 1858 relating to the condition and administration of the Roman States? He said:—I do not apprehend the noble Lord will have any difficulty in producing these papers, for he has made no secret of his opinion of the Roman Government, and I can hardly suppose that he will wish to withhold the information on which that opinion is founded. My motive in asking for them has no direct reference to the events now passing in Italy, or to the policy of the Government regarding them; still less do I now mean to attempt any vindica- 680 tion of the Roman Government. I think that it would be idle to discuss the political merits of a question in which such great religious interests are involved, and in which so much religious animosity has been unfortunately excited. My object is simply to elicit information. Judging from the language of successive Ministers, I have no right to suppose that that information is of a favourable character; but I ask for it not because I expect that it will be favourable, but because I hope that it will be authentic. It is impossible at present for any impartial persons to distinguish truth from falsehood in the midst of so much conflicting testimony and of so many conflicting passions. We have plenty of unscrupulous attacks on one side, and a good deal of not very discriminating eulogy on the other. There is but one document proceeding from a witness alike competent and disinterested—I mean the despatch of the late French Ambassador, of which, by the way, the French Government has implicitly admitted the authenticity. But that document is notoriously at variance with all that we are accustomed to hear. I hope, therefore, that is not too much to ask the Government that they should lay upon the table the Reports which they possess, equally authentic in character, but widely different apparently in spirit, in order that we may be able to judge of the materials on which they have founded their opinion and their policy. It is a practice with which the Roman Government has often been reproached, and of which it is easy to perceive the bad consequences, that it does not court publicity. I hope the noble Lord will not imitate that failing, but will rather assist in correcting it. All Catholics are, or ought to be, anxious to know all the truth concerning the accusations brought against the Roman Government. We do not wish to be open to the accusation that we are arguing upon imperfect knowledge, or defending what does not deserve to be defended. We do not wish that it should be believed that the Catholics of this country, who are better fitted by their position and their experience to appreciate the advantages of good government, are indifferent to the political welfare of their fellow Catholics abroad, or that we are blinded by attachment to our religion to facts by which, if they are true, that religion is injured and disgraced. I believe, then, that in asking for these papers I am speaking in the interest of all Catholics. But we are all of us interested in the good 681 name of our public men, and it can be a matter of indifference to nobody to know whether the information which is in the possession of the Government bears out the statements which have been made by men in high and responsible positions, undefended by argument, and unsupported by evidence.